Monday, November 29, 2010

See You At The Movies...

As some of you might know, one of the things I do as a designer is create period-correct graphics for movies and television. I'm able to accurately reproduce posters and packaging that looks like it is from a certain time period, but is not a real product, for example when you watch a movie scene that takes place in a bar in say, 1953, chances are the beer the characters are drinking are a made-up brand that just looks like it is from the era. The reasons for this is 1) it's too hard for a production company to get permission from the manufacturer of every product in every scene in every movie or tv show, and 2) using real antiques is just too cost-prohibitive.

So anyway, lately I have been working on a line of 1920's era vintage sporting posters. They are not team specific, but only city specific, in this case all New York City oriented. I thought I'd show some here and give everyone an example of what I do when I'm not drawing baseball cards!

Check out my NEW POSTER WEBSITE at to see these and many other posters I have done and now sell! If you have any questions or want a special poster, please email me at

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just In Time For The Holidays!

Just in time for the holidays... the first edition of a little baseball art and history journal called "Number 21". Named after the number of my Pop's favorite player, Number 21 will hopefully become a semi-regular series of themed books which will include 12 short stories and illustrations of the type of ballplayers you've come to expect from The Infinite Baseball Card Set Blog.

Due to overwhelming requests, the first book will be Jewish Baseball Pioneers and Stars. Besides including different takes on "the Big 3"- Greenberg, Koufax and Berg, I went all out to bring you 9 other guys you may or may not have heard of so it will appeal to ALL baseball history fans, whether you're Jewish or not.

Each edition will be a soft covered 20 page book printed on card stock and includes 12 different stories and artwork. Along with a short introduction about Jews and baseball these is also a 2 page section of baseball book suggestions from small-publishing companies that I think would be worthy additions to your library.

The book is being priced out now by printers and will sell for about $25 - 30.00. Stay tuned to the blog and I should have a definite publication date right after Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 12, 2010

58. Bill Byrd: Call Him "Daddy"

When I left New Jersey and arrived in Baltimore to attend art school back in 1988, I brought with me a growing passion for the negro leagues. From what books and material I was able to get a hold of in those pre-computer days, I of course knew about the mighty Kansas City Monarchs and the venerable Homestead Grays. But it was while living in Baltimore that I learned to appreciate the other teams that made up the negro leagues. The city of Baltimore had a rich black history and its baseball lineage included two great teams, the Baltimore Black Sox and the Elite Giants. Back then many former players were still alive and I tried my best to meet every one I could. My friendship with television and radio host Dr. Bob Hironemus helped me out immensely as he and his wife Zoe were big contributors to the memory and preservation of negro league history. Because of living in Baltimore, I kind of adapted the Elite Giants as "my" team and plunged myself into finding out everything I could about them. Each week as I draw and write about a different player I have to restrain myself from doing a feature on another Elite Giant player. So far I have been good and done only one other Elite, second baseman Sammy T. Hughes. Today I introduce the second Elite Giant to grace the virtual pages of The Infinite Baseball Card Set, pitcher Bill Byrd...

For every flashy Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in the Negro Leagues, there were guys like Bill Byrd. The big right-hander was the ace of the Baltimore Elite Giants staff. Byrd had a formidable arsenal of specialty pitches; blazing fastball, slider, various speed knuckle balls, change-up and a big ol' roundhouse curve all thrown with pin-point accuracy. But what he was most known and feared for was his spitball. Byrd was the last pitcher in the negro leagues who was allowed to use the slippery pitch. Opposing players swore he used it all the time, but Byrd claimed what he did was use the threat of it more often than not and psyche-out the batter. Byrd would later say that he did not even like throwing the pitch, but that his managers would always ask for it, knowing the value of its formidable reputation. And if he really didn't want to throw it, they told him to fake it.

An opposing player once asked Byrd if he really did throw a spitter to him, to which Byrd replied "if you thought I did, I did."

To throw the pitch, Byrd would chew a tree bark called Slippery Elm which produced a real nice consistency of lubricated saliva. After loading up his thumb, index and middle fingers, Byrd would grip the ball between the seams, wind up and throw the ball not so it rolled off the finger tips, but squeezed the ball out from between the wet fingers. Robbed of its natural spin, the baseball would hurtle towards the plate and suddenly drop away from the batter, kind of like a filthy split-finger fastball. Besides being hard to hit, it was a damned scary thing to try to catch as well.

The fatherly Byrd took it upon himself to look after the younger players, who nicknamed him "Daddy", including a husky young high school kid from Philadelphia named Roy Campanella. The future Hall Of Famer was just a 16 year-old kid when he joined the Elites in 1938. The much older and responsible Byrd took Campanella under his wing and watched over the young catcher, steering him away from the temptations of the road, all the while teaching him the ropes of how to handle big league pitchers. Later while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Campanella and pitcher Preacher Roe made a formidable battery because Campy knew exactly how to handle Roe's illegal spitball. Campanella later credited his years on the Elite Giants catching Bill Byrd as the key to his success in handling the unpredictable pitch. Another one of Byrd's young charges was future Dodger star Junior Gilliam. So too was a cocky young college kid named Joe Black, who joined the Elites as a shortstop in 1943, but his rifle arm made him more valuable as a pitcher. However Black was more of a "thrower" than "pitcher" and it was Byrd who quietly taught Black how to select pitches, set-up and outsmart a batter. Byrd's advice eventually turned Black into an All-Star pitcher and one of the first players to integrate the majors. Later joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, Joe Black's 1952 rookie season ranks among the most dominant season ever for a relief pitcher. Unfortunately an arm injury the next Spring curtailed Black's promising major league career.

Back in the 1930's and 40's Byrd was known as a "Money Pitcher". What this meant was that when a game meant something, this was the guy you wanted on the mound for you. When Byrd played ball, the negro leagues usually played about 3 official league games a week, the rest of the week being games against semi-pro and town teams or exhibition games that did not count in the standings. Negro league teams usually didn't play their best players in these meaningless exhibitions, saving guys like Byrd for the games that counted. More often than not, Bill Byrd came through. He was a workman-like pitcher, striking a batter out when he had to and letting him hit it to try to get a double play or pop out, what ever it took to win. Along with his suitcase of different pitches, Byrd would also use what ever was handed to him. Though he claimed to never do it himself, Byrd was also masterful at using a "cut ball". Negro league pitchers of his day were notorious for "cutting" the ball, making grooves or peeling back a part of the cover along the seams in order to make the ball do funny things. The money conscience negro leagues would use a baseball until it was either hit out of the park or fell apart so Byrd was often left with an artificially modified baseball to work with. Being the consummate professional, he made do with what he had.

Although statistics are incomplete it is fairly certain Byrd has the fourth best record for strikeouts in official negro league games. He is also credited with a lifetime league record of 114 wins and 72 losses, an approximate .615 winning percentage. The games he did lose were more often by a slim margin. For example, in box scores I collected from the 1942 season in which Byrd had 9 wins and 2 losses in league games, those 2 defeats were by the scores of 2-1 and 3-2 to the Homestead Grays who were the eventual Negro National League champs that year.

Perhaps more than his pitching skills, Byrd really was proud of his hitting prowess. As a boy he taught himself to hit by rigging up a stick on a rock and laying a smaller stick on top of that, then stepping on the first stick which popped the small stick into the air which he would then hit. The speed of which was required to hit the stick came in handy years later when he played professional ball. Byrd's bat speed was tremendous as was his power. He would often play the outfield during his days off with the Elites and he was the go-to guy when a pinch-hitter was needed. In the days when negro league teams carried only about 15-18 men on the roster, a multi-skilled player like Byrd was especially prized. As a "money pitcher" Byrd was often called upon to pitch in the Yankee Stadium four-team Sunday double-headers which attracted huge crowds, both black and white. Beside his pitching skills, it was Byrd's slugging power that really paid off in Yankee Stadium where the short right field porch was made for the switch-hitting slugger who had more power when batting from the left side. Byrd reckoned he hit 6 or 7 balls into the stands there.

The waning years of Bill Byrd's career echoed the demise of the negro leagues itself. After the Elite Giants won the Negro League World Series in 1949 when the now 42 year-old pitcher went 12-3, Byrd finally called it quits the next Spring. Attendance was rapidly declining and the Elites ceased to pay players salaries, instead dividing up a percentage of the gate receipts. The end of the league soon followed and the Elite Giants left Charm City for Nashville in 1951 and then disbanded. Byrd played semi-pro ball around Baltimore for a few years and then moved north to Philadelphia where he worked for General Electric.

Baltimore's Byrd might have retired, but his legacy lived on with three of his students moving on to the Major Leagues and stardom. Without their "Daddy", Dodger fans might never have gotten to see Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam and Joe Black.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Eddie Grant: A Real Hero for Veteran's Day

On a day like today, Veteran's Day, I want to feature a real hero. These days it seems anyone who does anything can be termed a hero. We are losing the real meaning of that word and that is something that really bothers me, especially when I learn about ordinary men and women who somehow rise to the top and emerge as real heroes. Miners trapped in Chile may be survivors and noteworthy, but they are not heroes. But, instead of writing a bitter, angry introduction outing the many pseudo-heroes that the media seems to create and force-feed to us non-stop, I will let the story of a real, bona-fide hero speak for itself.

They called him "Harvard Eddie." At a time when most ballplayers barely had a high school education, third baseman Eddie Grant, Harvard Class of 1909, was a member of the Massachusetts Bar, a full-fledged lawyer. He was also a darn good third baseman, batting .322 for Jersey City and leading the Eastern League during his first year in pro ball. The next season, 1907, Grant was called up to the Philadelphia Phillies. He quickly gained attention, not from his bat or fielding skills, but for what he would say on the field: when calling out his claim on a pop fly, instead of yelling the common "I GOT it!", Harvard Eddie called out the proper phrase, "I HAVE it!" much to the amusement of his more modestly educated teammates.

During off seasons Grant returned to Boston to practice law, but each spring he took up baseball again. Traded to Cincinnati in 1911, he lost something at the plate and his batting average plummeted. The death of his wife after barely 9 months of marriage might have been the reason why. In 1913 the New York Giants picked Grant up and although he rode the bench more often than not, John McGraw took a liking to the scholarly third sacker and made him the Giants' bench coach. As much as he loved the game, Grant disliked the life of a part-time coach and player and a the age of 32, retired to pursue his law career full-time.

The Great War had been raging in Europe for 3 years by now and many of Grant's Harvard classmates were active participants even before the U.S. entered the war. Whether they drove ambulances for one of the volunteer organizations operating just behind the trenches or flew airplanes for the French in the Lafayette Flying Corps, college educated men of that era felt a sense of duty and adventure that sadly seems lacking these days. Once America entered the war in April of 1917, even more of these privileged men from wealthy families left their lucrative careers and easy lives to become officers in the rapidly expanding U.S. Army. Back then the Army assumed that a college educated man made a natural leader and "Harvard Eddie" was made Captain of Company H, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces. After a period of training on Long Island with his men, Grant sailed for France in the summer of 1918.

The American Army was eager to prove itself to their Allies, France and Britain and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive was its chance. Launched on October 2nd, 1918, the Battle of the Argonne was one of the fiercest fights in American military history. The 77th Division charged into the Argonne Forest and strait into the solidly entrenched veteran German Army. It was during the confusing first day of the battle that Major Whittlesey, a New York attorney, got isolated and pinned down deep within the dense forest. Although forever known as "The Lost Battalion", Whittlesey knew exactly where he and his men were, it was just that no one else in the U.S. Army did. After a few anxious days, American aviators braved the dense German anti-aircraft fire and finally located Whittlesey and his battalion. Pilot Lieutenant Harold Goettler and his observer Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley volunteered to circle the forest with the idea that the place that did not fire back at them would be the the location of the lost battalion. They were right and after taking heavy fire which mortally wounded both men, their DH-4 aircraft crashed just short of the French lines. The French soldiers rushed forward to help the downed aviators. Goettler was already dead but Bleckley, with his last dying breath pressed a bloody note into the hands of the closest French soldier. On it was a map showing the location of Whittlesey and his men! With this new information, Captain Eddie Grant and Company H was among the units rushed into the Argonne to rescue the Lost Battalion.

By the morning of October 5th, Eddie Grant and his men had been on the front line and in the thick of the fighting for 4 days. No one, most of all Captain Grant, had had any time for sleep. Being awake and constantly under enemy fire for 4 days must have been a terrible feeling. Add on top of that the responsibility for the lives of the 150 men of his company and you can imagine the stress Grant must have been under. Taken out of the line that day for rest, a fellow officer described the captain as barely able to lift his arm to bring a cup of much needed coffee to his lips. But his company's reprieve was short-lived. The Lost Battalion had been found. When orders to move-out came, Grant got to his feet and took his place at the head of his Company. He led them right back into the Argonne.

The Germans threw everything they had at the Americans rushing into the forest. If Whittlesey and his dwindling men could be captured or killed it would be a devastating blow to the upstart fresh Americans as well as their weary Allies. The story of the Lost Battalion had made newspapers all over the globe and its rescue would come as a giant shot in the arm to the young nation eager to prove itself to the world in the greatest war mankind had ever known. As the 307th Regiment marched forward the German artillery pounded the road leading into the forest. Men and horses were torn to bits by the constant exploding shells but still Captain Grant and the American Army moved forward through the hail of shrapnel.

Among the wounded being brought back past the advancing infantrymen was Major Jay, commander of Grant's battalion. Recognizing Eddie he waved him over. All the other ranking officers were either dead or wounded. Harvard Eddie was now in charge of the battalion.

Though it didn't seem possible, the shelling increased. The Germans knew they had to destroy the Americans before they reached Whittlesey. The whole road had become a deathtrap but everyone knew they had to move forward. Grant called his officers together to brief them on the situation. At that moment a shell exploded, tearing apart the two young lieutenants standing next to Eddie. Grant tried yelling over the screams and explosions for a stretcher bearer. Signaling his men to take cover and waving his arms wildly in desperation for medics that never came, the next shell exploded directly on top of Harvard Eddie. He died instantly.

New York sports writer Damon Runyon was a war correspondent in France during war and had known Eddie Grant well during his time with the Giants. He wrote a stirring eulogy for the former third baseman entitled "Eddie Grant Sleeps In The Argonne Forest". The story was reprinted widely including in the 1919 Spalding Guide and Grant, the only major leaguer killed in the war, gained posthumous fame. In 1921 the New York Giants dedicated a plaque commemorating the former infielder and bench coach in front of which a wreath was placed each Memorial Day in a solemn ceremony started by his old friend, John McGraw. That plaque was famously stolen after the last Giants game at the Polo Grounds in 1957. Historians searched in vain for the plaque or any trace of who the scumbag was who stole it but it wasn't until 1999 that a couple moving into their new Hohokus, New Jersey home discovered a plaque wrapped in a blanket hidden in the attic. Turns out the home was formerly owned by a New York City cop named
Gaetano Bucca. Officer Bucca, whose police beat in 1957 included the neighborhood surrounding the Polo Grounds, had apparently stolen the memorial. But baseball historians aren't positive the plaque is the real one stolen from the Polo Grounds. The San Francisco Giants for their part didn't seem to care as they try to distance themselves from their former life in Manhattan. First World War historians did however finally get the team to install a replacement in the new ballpark a few years ago. You can see it near the Lefty O'Doul entrance, but in this day and age of so many "heroes", this modest memorial to a fallen soldier who gave his life for his country just doesn't seem to be enough.

Dedicated to Captain Eddie Grant and every other serviceman and servicewoman who gave their life so I may live free in this great country of ours. Thank You.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lefty Grove Art on ebay, too!

And a Lefty Grove is also on ebay this week...